Sean Connery on slapping women: Dangerous opinions, but a man of the time?

Reflecting on Sean Connery’s life, it’s impossible to skate over his notorious attitude towards women.

Looking at the things he said, and – it’s been alleged – did, we have to address the part he played in the great gender imbalance.

But to tar him entirely for the realities of a society of a different era would be in itself wrong.

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However, we do need to examine some painful truths that Sean Connery’s admissions have forced us to face.

"I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman- although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man. An open-handed slap is justified if all other alternatives fail.” – Sean Connery, Playboy, 1965.

Looking back with the eyes of today, Connery’s comments are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Many even at the time found them hard to stomach.

It was the first in a number of comments which earned the Edinburgh-born actor a reputation as a man who would be quick to raise his fists in anger against women.

In Connery’s eyes, he may only have spoken his mind on something he found perfectly normal, but sadly at that time he was far from alone in holding such opinions.

Sean Connery's attitudes towards women has been subject for scrutiny in the past.Sean Connery's attitudes towards women has been subject for scrutiny in the past.
Sean Connery's attitudes towards women has been subject for scrutiny in the past.

The normality of misogyny in society in years gone by is very real – one only has to look at Connery’s own turn as James Bond to find countless uncomfortable moments which helped shape the attitudes of the time.

The stomach-turning “love” scene where Bond subdues and forces himself onto Pussy Galore is just one of many cinematic moments of the time which encouraged the idea that women could and should be bent to the wills of men.

But these were ideas that went far beyond Sean Connery or even James Bond for that matter.

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The changes society has undergone in that time make it almost unrecognisable now, but even as attitudes began to evolve, Connery was slow to catch-up.

Some 22 years later he was interviewed for American television where his own words were thrown back at him by Barbara Walters, and he replied bluntly: “I haven’t changed my opinion.”

He added: "I don’t think it’s good, I don’t think it’s that bad. I think it depends entirely on the circumstances and if it merits it.”

It prompted Walters to ask what WOULD merit it, to which he calmly returned: “If you have tried everything else – and women are pretty good at this – they can’t leave it alone. They want to have the last word and you give them the last word, but they’re not happy with the last word. They want to say it again, and get into a really provocative situation, then I think it’s absolutely right.”

Between 1962 and 73, Connery was married to Australian actress Diane Cilento, who later claimed in her autobiography that he abused her physically and mentally – something the Bond actor denied. The allegations would later dog Connery into postponing an appearance at the Scottish Parliament, something which may have caused him to reflect on his stance.

Connery later changed his attitude in 2006 when he finally stated outright that hitting women is wrong – but by that time his earlier comments were already embedded in the public consciousness. For many his newfound stance came far too late, and did little to change public opinion.

We may well look back and judge him harshly, and rightly so. But in doing so we should also look back at the wider world of the time and be equally quick to condemn that which was very much the way of the time.